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Articles and thoughts by Peter Holslin

Independent Bookstores of New York City Unite!

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As it appeared in the New York City section of The AV Club in the 10/23-10/29 issue of The Onion. [It’s not available online and I’m having problems with posting a pdf.]

Shop Write
A few small bookstores worth haunting

Small bookstores in our famed literary city are precious wellsprings of inspiration for aspiring novelists, forums for chain-smoking anarchists, prime loitering spaces for jobless weirdoes, and more. But ever-rising rents and the encroachment of corporate chains and online booksellers have killed off many treasured shops, and the economic meltdown suggests a bruising season to come. To save indie shops from extinction, a new alliance called Independent Booksellers Of New York City has put up a website (ibnyc.org) with a list of over 70 affiliated stores, a map of their locations, and a pretty pink bird. Among some of the uncommon favorites:

Bluestockings
(172 Allen St—Lower East Side)

Organized as a feminist worker’s collective, Bluestockings is run by hip 20-something volunteers (women outnumber men 4 to 1) and a staff of co-owners who describe themselves as “reluctant capitalists.” The focus has always been on feminist texts by authors like Jennifer Baumgardner and bell hooks, but there are also essential titles on politics, economics and activism from the likes of Naomi Klein and Michael Albert. All day, young anarchists and old Democratic Socialists alike pore over the ’zines, drink the coffee, and prepare for the leftist revival. Evenings play host to activist-led discussions, such as recent lessons for how to divine compost from garbage.
Emblematic impulse buy: DivaCup menstruation kit
Model patron: Thurston Moore

Oscar Wilde Bookshop
(15 Christopher St—East Village)

This historic shop has served the gay community in Greenwich Village since 1967 and favors everything from Ellen Hart’s series of “Jane Lawless” mystery books to Randy Shilts’ definitive tome on homosexuality in the U.S. military. The friendly staffers are knowledgeable within their specialized focus, and they’re eager to share what they like about undiscovered gems. All of which makes for a warm and welcoming environment, especially for those who fear being outed in a bustling aisle of Barnes & Noble.
Emblematic impulse buy: Firefighter/merman Christmas tree ornament
Model patron: Vaunted memoirist Alison Smith

Brownstone Books
(409 Lewis Ave—Bed-Stuy)

Urban planner Crystal Bobb-Semple opened this family-oriented shop with her husband eight years ago to build up community along a sleepy avenue in her family’s picturesque neighborhood of Bed-Stuy. (There’s also a branch at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music in Fort Greene.) The focus tends toward what the owner herself deems “important books” (The August Wilson Century Cycle, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao), and the tiny space makes for quite a neighborly place, with events that have featured a children’s book illustrator and the inspirationalist behind The Hustler’s 10 Commandments.
Emblematic impulse buy: Moleskine notebook
Model patron: Queen, a former Black Panther

Melville House
(145 Plymouth St—DUMBO)

Situated in a neighborhood peppered with the offices of literary journals (The Brooklyn Paper, The London Review) and lots of other bookshops, this showcase for the publisher Melville House carries its own titles plus essentials from fellow indie houses like Verso and Soft Skull. Laid-back events marry cheap beer with timely presentations: It might have even been reassuring to visit during the second presidential debate, when Harper’s publisher John R. MacArthur discussed his new book You Can’t Be President: The Outrageous Barriers To Democracy in America.
Emblematic impulse buy: Bobble-head doll of Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem
Model patron: A multimedia artist pushing a stroller

Freebird Books & Goods
(123 Columbia St—Red Hook)

Freebird is an ideal place to laze away a Sunday, and not just for the special section labeled “Great Jackets, Bad Titles, And Just Plain Weird” (see: Loxfinger: A Thrilling Adventure Of Hebrew Secret Agent Oy-Oy-7). The soft-spoken owner might just brew you some coffee and offer fascinating insight into the yard of Red Hook shipping containers across the street. The monthly events are impish (recently, visitors celebrated Thomas Pynchon’s birthday by faxing the author congratulations), and the “post-apocalyptic book club” might yet prove prescient.
Emblematic impulse buy: Moxie soda
Model patron: “Sweaty Eddie,” junk salesman —Peter Holslin

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Written by Peter Holslin

November 11, 2008 at 5:39 pm

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